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Florida Fifth DCA remands nursing home negligence case for new trial based on inconsistency of liability verdict with small amount of damages awarded

On May 19, 2017, in FLNC, Inc. v. Ramos, No. 5D16-1725, the Florida Fifth DCA remanded a nursing home negligence case for a new trial of liability, causation and damages after determining that small amount of damages awarded was inconsistent with the underlying liability verdict. The trial jury had found the nursing home liable, but had only awarded the plaintiff $13,309.23, which was entirely allocated to past medical expenses. The plaintiff requested an additur from the trial court pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 768.74, but rejected the Court’s proposed additur of $9,500. Under Section 768.74, the plaintiff consequently was entitled to a new trial on the issue of damages only, but the trial court ordered a new trial on the issues of both damages and causation. On appeal, the plaintiff objected to the trial court’s order of a new trial on causation and the defendant objected to the trial court’s failure to order a new trial on liability, causation and damages. The Fifth DCA sided with the defendant, quoting from 1661 Corp. v. Snyder, 267 So. 2d 362, 364 (Fla. 1st DCA 1972), for the proposition that “[t]o grant a new trial on the issue of damages alone, it must appear that on the evidence adduced at the trial, the liability of the defendant was unequivocally established without substantial dispute and the inadequacy of the verdict was induced by a misconception of the law or the failure of the jury to consider all of the elements of damages submitted, and not as a result of a compromise by the jury on the issue of liability.” Based on the evidence at trial, in which liability was “hotly contested,” the Fifth DCA concluded that the jury had likely reached a compromise verdict on liability that was reflected in the minimal damages.